After a 37-year career as an investment advisor to endowments, foundations and pension funds, David Hammerstein began writing about spiritual challenges facing contemporary Jewish families. His parents fled Nazi Germany in 1939 and settled in Washington, D.C., where he was born and raised. Their experiences as refugees shaped his belief in the importance of tolerance. Hammerstein lives in Pittsburgh with his two children and three grandchildren.
In 2011 my world darkened when my wife of 35 years lost her valiant battle against cancer. Her death left a void in our family. She inspired us with her faith and enriched every life she touched.
The following year my mother, who fled Nazi persecution from her native Germany in 1939, died at the age of 94. For me her passing represented more than the death of a parent; it symbolized the near-obliteration of European Jewry.
These losses prompted me to look inward.
A trip to Israel in 2012, highlighted by a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, in Jerusalem helped me reflect on my Jewish heritage. As the tour bus climbed the hill to Yad Vashem, our guide explained that every Israeli soldier must visit this place to reinforce the purpose of Israel’s existence. The slow, torturous climb of the bus evoked images of captive Jews in cattle cars en route to Nazi death camps. Those Jews did not die in vain, I thought. They died to sustain Jewish life.
Judaism has been the most powerful force in my life. It has given me a set of beliefs and laws to guide learning, tolerance, and charity. I am grateful to my parents, who instilled me with Jewish values.
In 2013, I retired early from my career as advisor to institutional investors. I found my work challenging and fulfilling, for I viewed it broadly, extending well beyond mere money management. I saw it as a powerful tool to advance social goals such as enhancing workers’ retirement security, promoting education, and supporting the needy.
Newly retired, I began to re-evaluate my life. I taught an investment course and took courses in writing, art history, and literature. I resumed the study of classical piano, a lifelong passion. I began to write a book on the institutional investment process to convey my professional insights and perspectives to fiduciaries. But, despite having done extensive technical writing, I found this book difficult to write.
An acquaintance who had observed my vivid imagination suggested that I try creative writing. The notion of writing fiction had never occurred to me; I thought I lacked the interest and talent. But I began to write, and the words flowed. I found myself writing about a Jewish dog named Kelev (Hebrew for “dog”) who embarks on a journey to dig up his roots. I conveyed the Jewish experience through a dog because I believe that the dog’s innocence reflects the purity of spirit to which Judaism aspires.
I do not know which dogs in my past inspired Kelev. Perhaps I thought of our family dog Snowball, a frisky snow-white American Eskimo. Perhaps Kelev came from the black Labs that roamed the campus of Colgate during my college days, or the Lab I once saw guiding a blind woman across the street.
In the book Kelev embarks on a journey, rather like the bus making its symbolic uphill approach to Yad Vashem. He comes to terms with the richness and complexity of Judaism by helping his neighborhood friends understand Jewish values and obligations. Ultimately he finds peace and purpose.
I look to Kelev as a model whose innocence guides him along the path to a good Jewish life. In fact, his journey epitomizes my life. I have struggled with the same questions he tackles:
The book dramatizes these questions, especially with Kelev’s invention of the Yidometer, a device that tests fidelity to Judaism.
Friends encouraged me to publish this book. Writing it began to dispel the darkness I was experiencing in my world. I hope Kelev’s Journey offers readers a clearer perspective on Judaism—as well as a touch of humor.